Yet the 15th century, from the point of view of French literature, is much more remarkable than its historians have been wont to confess. It has not the strongly marked and compact originality of some periods, and it furnishes only one name of the highest order of literary interest; but it abounds in names of the second rank, and the very difference which exists between their styles and characters testifies to the existence of a large number of separate forces working in their different manners on different persons.
Its theatre we have already treated by anticipation, and to it we shall afterwards recur.
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It was the palmy time of the early French stage, and all the dramatic styles which we have enumerated then came to perfection. Of no other kind of literature can the same be said. The century which witnessed the invention of printing naturally devoted itself at first more to the spreading of old literature than to the production of new. Yet as it perfected the early drama, so it produced the prose tale. First among the poets of the period falls to be mentioned the shadowy personality of Olivier Basselin.
Modern criticism has attacked the identity of the jovial miller, who was once supposed to have written and perhaps invented the songs called vaux de vire , and to have Christine de Pisan.
About Christine de Pisan — and Alain Chartier — c. Christine was the daughter of an Italian astrologer who was patronized by Charles V. She was born in Italy but brought up in France, and she enriched the literature of her adopted country Alain Chartier.
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She wrote history, devotional works and poetry; and though her literary merit is not of the highest, it is very far from despicable. In both Christine and Chartier there is a great deal of rather heavy moralizing, and a great deal of rather pedantic erudition. But it is only fair to remember that the intolerable political and social evils of the day called for a good deal of moralizing, and that it was the function of the writers of this time to fill up as well as they could the scantily filled vessels of medieval science and learning. Charles, indeed, if not a Roland or a Bayard, was an admirable poet.
He is the best-known and perhaps the best writer of the graceful poems in which an artificial versification is strictly observed, and helps by its recurrent lines and modulated rhymes to give to poetry something of a musical accompaniment even without the addition of music properly so called.
His ballades are certainly inferior to those of Villon, but his rondels are unequalled.
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For fully a century and a half these forms engrossed the attention of French lyrical poets. Exercises in them were produced in enormous numbers, and of an excellence which has only recently obtained full recognition even in France. But that this effeminacy was no natural or inevitable fault of the ballades and the rondeaux was fully proved by the most remarkable literary figure of the 15th century in France.
His remarkable life and character especially lie outside our subject. But he is universally recognized as the most important single figure of French literature before the Renaissance. His work is very strange in form, the undoubtedly genuine part of it consisting merely of two compositions, known as the great and little Testament, written in stanzas of eight lines of eight syllables each, with lyrical compositions in ballade and rondeau form interspersed.
Towards the end of the century the poetical production of the time became very large. The artificial measures already alluded to, and others far more artificial and infinitely less beautiful, were largely practised. The combination of these drifts in verse-writing produced a school known in literary history, from a happy phrase of the satirist Coquillart v.
Yet some of the minor poets of the time are not to be despised. While the serious poetry of the age took this turn, there was no lack of lighter and satirical verse. Villon, indeed, were it not for the depth and pathos of his poetical sentiment, might be claimed as a poet of the lighter order, and the patriotic diatribes against the English to which we have alluded easily passed into satire.
The political quarrels of the latter part of the century also provoked much satirical composition. The battles of France and Burgundy were waged on paper between Gilles des Ormes and the above-named Georges Chastelain, typical representatives of the two styles of 15th-century poetry already alluded to—Des Ormes being the lighter and more graceful writer, Chastelain a pompous and learned allegorist.
The most remarkable representative of purely light poetry outside the Coquillart. This city, like others, suffered from the pitiless tyranny of Louis XI. The beginnings of the standing army which Charles VII. Again, when the king entertained the idea of unifying the taxes and laws of the different provinces, Coquillart, who was named commissioner for this purpose, wrote on the occasion a satire called Les Droits nouveaux. A certain kind of satire, much less good-tempered than the earlier forms, became indeed common at this epoch.
Lenient has well pointed out that a new satirical personification dominates this literature. It is no longer Renart with his cynical gaiety, or the curiously travestied and almost amiable Devil of the Middle Ages. Now it is Death as an incident ever present to the imagination, celebrated in the thousand repetitions of the Danse Macabre , sculptured all over the buildings of the time, even frequently performed on holidays and in public.
All through the century, too, anonymous verse of the lighter kind was written, some of it of great merit. The folk-songs already alluded to, published by Gaston Paris, show one side of this composition, and many of the pieces contained in M. The 15th century was perhaps more remarkable for its achievements in prose than in poetry. It produced, indeed, no prose writer of great distinction, except Comines; but it witnessed serious, if not extremely successful, efforts at prose composition.
The invention of printing finally substituted the reader for the listener, and when this substitution has been effected, the main inducement to treat unsuitable subjects in verse is gone.
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The study of the classics at first hand contributed to the same end. As early as the university of Paris had a Greek professor. But long before this time translations in prose had been made. Pierre Bercheure Bersuire — had already translated Livy.
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Nicholas Oresme c. These writers or others composed Le Songe du vergier , an elaborate discussion of the power of the pope. The famous chancellor, Jean Charlier or Gerson — , to whom the Imitation has among so many others been attributed, spoke constantly and wrote often in the vulgar tongue, though he attacked the most famous and popular work in that tongue, the Roman de la rose. Christine de Pisan and Alain Chartier were at least as much prose writers as poets; and the latter, while he, like Gerson, dealt much with the reform of the church, used in his Quadriloge invectif really forcible language for the purpose of spurring on the nobles of France to put an end to her sufferings and evils.
These moral and didactic treatises were but continuations of others, which for convenience sake we have hitherto left unnoticed. Certain household books Livres de raison have been preserved, some of which date as far back as the 13th century. These contain not merely accounts, but family chronicles, receipts and the like.
Accounts of travel, especially to the Holy Land, culminated in the famous Voyage of Mandeville which, though it has never been of so much importance in French as in English, perhaps first took vernacular form in the French tongue. Of the 14th century, we have a Menagier de Paris , intended for the instruction of a young wife, and a large number of miscellaneous treatises of art, science and morality, while private letters, mostly as yet unpublished, exist in considerable numbers, and are generally of the moralizing character; books of devotion, too, are naturally frequent.
But the most important divisions of medieval energy in prose composition are the spoken exercises of the pulpit and the bar. The beginnings of French sermons have been much discussed, especially the question whether St Bernard, whose discourses we possess in ancient, but doubtfully Early sermon-writers.
Towards the end of the 12th century, however, the sermons of Maurice de Sully — present the first undoubted examples of homiletics in the vernacular, and they are followed by many others—so many indeed that the 13th century alone counts sermon-writers, besides a large body of anonymous work. These sermons were, as might indeed be expected, chiefly cast in a somewhat scholastic form—theme, exordium, development, example and peroration following in regular order. The 14th-century sermons, on the other hand, have as yet been little investigated.
It must, however, be remembered that this age was the most famous of all for its scholastic illustrations, and for the early vigour of the Dominican and Franciscan orders. With the end of the century and the beginning of the 15th, the importance of the pulpit begins to revive. The early years of the new age have Gerson for their representative, while the end of the century sees the still more famous names of Michel Menot — , Olivier Maillard c.
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Louis XI. Froissart had been followed as a chronicler by Enguerrand de Monstrelet c. The memoir and chronicle writers, who were to be of so much importance in French literature, also begin to be numerous at this period. Juvenal des Ursins — , an anonymous bourgeois de Paris two such indeed , and the author of the Chronique scandaleuse , may be mentioned as presenting the character of minute observation and record which has distinguished the class ever since. Jean le maire de not des Belges — c. But Comines — is no imitator of Froissart Comines.
The last of the quartette of great French medieval historians, he does not yield to any of his three predecessors in originality or merit, but he is very different from them. He fully represents the mania of the time for statecraft, and his book has long ranked with that of Machiavelli as a manual of the art, though he has not the absolutely non-moral character of the Italian.